Box 1.1 Possible Ethical, Legal, and Societal Implications of Seeking Technological Superiority
As a matter of U.S. policy, superior military technology is
a cornerstone of the U.S. military’s strategic posture…. DOD Research and Engineering (R&E) programs are needed to create, demonstrate, and partner in the transition to operational use of affordable technologies that can provide a decisive military superiority to defeat any adversary on any battlefield…. [Furthermore] continued technology development should enable future military superiority.1
The U.S. declaratory policy of seeking technological military superiority over U.S. adversaries has an overarching impact on ethical, legal, and societal issues that involve the R&D associated with new technologies of military relevance. But a detailed examination of the ELSI implications of this policy is not within the scope of this project’s statement of task, which implicitly asks the committee to assume the validity of this policy. Some aspects of this policy that may have ELSI implications include the following:
• Weapons to implement the policy of technological superiority have to conform to the laws of war, but since technology often outstrips the laws of war, the laws of war per se may not be much of a constraint. Thus, the development of such weapons stresses existing understandings of law and ethics that may be operative before the introduction of such weapons.
• Technological superiority may provide transient rather than long-lasting advantage as adversaries learn to counter or obtain the technologies available to the United States. However, even transient advantages can be tactically significant in the short term (in terms of enabling U.S. forces to perform missions at lower human and economic cost), especially if they come as a surprise to an unprepared adversary.
• Adversaries, both real and potential, react to the introduction of new U.S. military technologies. The availability of such technologies to the United States may deter adversaries from taking hostile actions against U.S. interests, may cause adversaries to seek to adopt those technologies for their own use, or may cause them to seek to counter the advantages conferred by U.S. use. Indeed, the first
is an explicit decision regarding whose ethical perspectives should be considered and taken into account.
The second aspect of addressing differing ethical perspectives is just as important. Once competing ethical perspectives have been identified, how should they be weighed and who should weigh them? Furthermore, on what basis should a party whose ethical perspectives are not adequately included in any policy decision, however inclusive and honest